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Enforcing Duterte's order to arrest those who will refuse a COVID-19 jab still needs a law, says Palace

By Camille Torres Published Jun 22, 2021 5:55 pm Updated Jun 22, 2021 8:31 pm

The government will still need an enabling law to enforce President Rodrigo Duterte’s order last night, June 21, to arrest those who will refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, but Malacanang said that the statement is based on sound legal doctrine.

“Wala pa po (There is none),” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said today, June 22, during the televised palace briefing. 

“Sa jurisprudence ng Pilipinas at ng Amerika, puwedeng ma-compel o ipatupad ang compulsory vaccination pero kinakailangan ng legal na basehan. So kinakailangan natin ng ordinansa o ng batas na magpapataw din ng parusa sa mga ayaw magpabakuna (In the jurisprudence of the Philippines and America, we could compel or enforce compulsory vaccination but we need a legal basis. So we need an ordinance that will impose a penalty on those who will refuse),” Roque said.

A healthcare worker prepares to administer the Sinovac jab to teaching and non-teaching employees of DepED Manila on June 22 (KJ Rosales/The Philippine Star)

Roque said he is confident that such a proposal will pass Congress due to jurisprudence in the Philippines and the United States stating that “the rights of the individual may be subject for restraint if the safety of the general public may demand.

“It is part and parcel of the inherent police power to protect public health,” said Roque.

Duterte said during his public address yesterday, June 21, that he will imprison those who will refuse the COVID-19 jab.

“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed,” Duterte said. 

“Don’t force my hand into it. Kung hindi kayo magpabakuna, umalis kayo sa Pilipinas. (If you will not get the jab, get out of the country.) Go to India if you want or somewhere in America. But for as long as you are here and you are a human being who can carry the virus magpabakuna ka (get vaccinated),” he said.

“Otherwise, I will order the barangay captains to have a tally of the people who refuse to be vaccinated,” he added.

For public health reasons, certain freedoms may be restricted for persons who refuse to be vaccinated but such measures must be appropriate and proportionate to the threat involved.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra acknowledged that there is no law yet that penalizes people who refuse to get their COVID-19 shots.

"As a lawyer, he knows that not getting vaccinated is a legal choice; there is no law as yet that compels vaccination against COVID-19, much less criminalizes it, as presently available vaccines are still in their trial phases," Guevarra said in a statement on Tuesday.

Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Benhur Abalos said Duterte merely made the threat "out of frustration." 

"He wants to show the seriousness of these things," Abalos said.

The Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile, stressed that COVID-19 vaccination should not be compulsory and should only be administered under the conditions of informed consent.

“For public health reasons, certain freedoms may be restricted for persons who refuse to be vaccinated but such measures must be appropriate and proportionate to the threat involved. Most importantly, persons who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 must not be penalized under the law,” the Commission said in a statement.

The Philippine government aims to immunize 50% to 60% of the population to achieve herd immunity, with more focus on Metro Manila and its surrounding areas, by the end of 2021.

(Banner photo by KJ Rosales/The Philippine Star)